THE CHARISMATIC PUBLIC SPEAKER
He was running late. The meeting was supposed to end half an hour earlier and the other consultants were still in a heated debate. The organizer called, marimba played over the iPhone, Secretary Ona had just finished his speech. The crowd was taking a break and a few minutes past, it would be his turn. He ended the call, raised his voice vaguely, called upon the doctors and professors in the room and asked to be excused. He will return after lunch, he said. After all, Hyatt Hotel was just a stone’s throw away.
The concierge directed him to the elevator. He had his computer with him and the presentation that he will be showing to more than a hundred participants, 53 slides waiting the large white canvass before the stage. He approached the open door and the ushers rushed towards him with lei ready. Cameras flashed and handshakes were exchanged. Everyone was astir and as soon as he entered the door, the emcee tapped the microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen, we would like to welcome our speaker, Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan…” He gave a flash drive to the audiovisual personnel and the lights dimmed to signal that everything was in order. The doctor is in. He was just in time.
Dok Jimmy has the character countenance of a well-favored politico. He suits up clean for every event that he attends, even inside the ‘radio room’ where he airs his morning program, Doctor’s Orders. He gathers a crowd in the conferences he goes to. From his radio program, he has gathered a loyal fan base, texting him through his personal number at an hourly rate, to which he would always reply. His fans follow him when they can. One time in Santa Rosa City, Laguna, as community members from lakeshore barangays of Aplaya, Caingin and Sinalhan were discussing with representatives of their local government how the flooding of Laguna Lake may be addressed, he had the occasion to chat with them. The event, organized by Dok Jimmy’s research team, has been ‘publicized’ briefly when he made that day’s radio program by phone patch along the way from Metro Manila. When the meeting ended, there were three people outside waiting for him. They brought boiled saba. They were Dok Jimmy’s faithful listeners, they said. They heard Dok Jimmy was in Santa Rosa City and they decided to meet him.
His usual hurried day pauses any time someone stops him to ask for advice. His advocacy for herbal and natural remedy use and healthy lifestyle would not be left out in the conversation. He would add ‘love and forgiveness’ to the mix. He meets and greets anyone, from labor group members to government Secretaries. He gives his talks from five-star hotel ballrooms and exclusive multi-million peso golf country clubs to partly-open rooftops of barangay halls and makeshift rostrums. In one event, he struts in between fishermen airing their concern over a dying open water industry and the Presidential Adviser on Climate Change, he keeps the concern alive in fluid rhetoric, “Any reaction, no matter how strong is very much welcome. Let them bubble to the surface for these are expressions of our deep concern for the welfare of man and of the environment” (In the Community Forum 2012, Tagaytay City).
His speech or presentation, whatever it is that he is invited for, always starts with a smile. The topic may be as serious as the looming crisis in nurse under-employment, or maybe as grave as the public health scenario of Metro Manila, but he never forgets to flash his infectious grin. His talk, anywhere in the 7,107 islands of the Philippines, would not deny the prepended gesture. And sure enough, coupled with a few seconds of dramatic silence, it catches everyone’s attention. There is no script in his messages, there is only that outline he keeps in his head and much of what he will share will come from his very experiences, life events whose insights and values are both personal and public, learning that have been accrued from so many forms, years and permutations of public service. He juxtaposes news items that people usually glance over with scientific discourse. He puts a little bit of history in his lecture, history which he was part of, and in effect, giving new meaning to the narrative. For the remainder of the talk, he will have given body to the facts, he has had asserted and has put forth a challenge, he has had catalyzed a fledgling cause. Like the event at the Hyatt Hotel and Casino, he remonstrated the Philippine Nurses Association why they let go of Secretary Ona, they can demand more administrative involvement for the security of Filipino nurses and the advancement of the profession. “It’s time for a nurse Undersecretary!”
Well-reasoned and eloquent, he stirs the hornet’s nest with the fervor of an indelible thrust for social justice. Indeed, it was in his years as a student of the University of the Philippines when the government opposition against the Marcos regime and controversies of the Diliman Republic fomented the Martial Law. His manner of gracefully jumping between gentle persuasion and activist oration is perhaps an allusion to this slice of history, the former Student Regent continues to direct and participate in the pact for greater sense of responsibility and accountability for everyone involved in the social spheres that affect both humble man and aristocrat. His speeches reveal the nuance of a long-chronicled struggle and may they be academic, the intonation belies innuendos of active purpose. The audience may laugh at his jokes, but in the end of the day, the message comes across to reverberate at the end of the laughter.
In Hyatt, the standing ovation was a testament to effective public speaking but more than that, it a merely the observable extension of the audience’s resound. After the plaque of appreciation has been given and after the many more glint of camera strobe lights running from stage to the exit door, he returns to his meeting at the College of Medicine. He was right, it was just time for lunch.